Methods for defining and retrieving reference conditions for large rivers were explored with emphasis on hydromorphologic and biologic quality indicators. For a set of four large rivers in the European Western Plains ecoregion, i.e., the rivers Meuse, Loire, Allier, and Dordogne, reference reaches were selected based on geomorphologic characteristics. A survey of riparian land use, vegetation, and bed geometry was done for the selected reaches. Responses of the riparian landscape to hydromorphologic conditions were determined with a set of existing and newly developed measures of riparian dynamics and forest development. Strong correlations were observed at the reach and local levels between the ratios of width to depth and embankment and the developed measures of riparian dynamics and forest. Boundary conditions for riparian forest development were determined for the hydromorphologic and biologic indicators of riparian dynamics and vegetation structure. These conditions also proved useful for determining the presence of sustainable populations of Populus nigra and Salix purpurea. From this agreement between abiotic and biotic boundary conditions, a set of useful reference conditions was determined, and a framework for the definition of reference and good status conditions subsequently evolved. Finally, a proposal for assessment and monitoring the proposed indicators is discussed for its applicability.